Mostly Walking is a weekly series that streams live on Twitch and can also be seen on YouTube. Basically three long-time friends play an old-school adventure game together. Of course Sean Day Plott, Bill Graner and Sean Bouchard aren’t just dudes having a Monday night bro-fest. They’re video game developers and in Day’s case a very popular eSports personality. So it’s safe to say this is more than a hobby to them. Still this show isn’t a walk in the park for them because…well…adventure games.
Of the thousands and thousands of titles unleashed since Pong, few deliver elation and frustration like adventure games. Video games usually have a story but in this case, the story is the game. Puzzles are plot-based with solutions determined by the player’s observations and deductive powers. Not only do players control the hero’s movements but help the story to unfold as the game progresses.
That also means if the player is stumped then so is the game. Hopefully a villain won’t come along and murder the hero, thus ending the adventure. Plus if the player didn’t save their progress then it means starting all over again – elation and frustration. On Mostly Walking, Day uses his superior hand/eye coordination, while all three put their big brains together. In between laughing fits (Thank God for VOD!) I’ve managed to learn a few things which I’m going to share with you.
#1 You know nothing, Jon Snow (or whatever your name is)
Let’s get this bit out of the way early on. Adventure games inevitably make us all feel like idiots. It may happen occasionally or be an undercurrent throughout the whole experience, but at some point in time, we will all feel absolutely stupid. It doesn’t take long to formulate what our hero needs to achieve overall and know that the puzzles are like rungs on a ladder that get us there; but how it all comes together is pretty vague until the very end. It’s because we don’t have all the facts and can’t help shake the feeling that there’s something important we should know but don’t or it was purposely withheld for no apparent reason. (The paranoia can be palpable.)
Unless following a detailed walk-through or instructional video (both easily found online), we’ll have to figure it out. The best method is to explore the environment and engage the NPCs in dialogue – all of them. The other characters know more than we do. Heck, our own character knows more than we do but we won’t find out unless actively investigating. The NPCs are also pretty catty that we’re asking them for basic information, as if they have something better to do.
In King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow (1992), we’re Prince Alexander of Daventry who travels to The Green Isles in search for his beloved, Princess Cassima. Getting the girl is our ultimate goal but of course, there is a villain with a nefarious plan. While trying to reach the princess we have to talk to almost every citizen, visit every island and do favours for just about everybody which leads me to the next point.
#2 Inventory is everything
Adventure game heroes are basically hoarders with Time Lord technology. The hero’s pouch, pocket or bag of holding contains all collected miscellaneous items; and when I say miscellaneous, I mean miscellaneous! All these ordinary and extraordinary things serve a purpose, well they’re supposed to anyway. Either an NPC who will help us needs them or they’ll be used with something to interact with an object. Sometimes two inventory items will be used together but all of them are (supposed to be) puzzle solutions.
In The Dig (1995), Commander Boston Low was stranded on an alien planet with two fellow astronauts. In order to find their way home, he was dragging around a flashlight, shovel, Pen Ultimate PDA, gold and silver sceptres (that looked like something advertised on late night TV), an ancient alien tablet, various engraved rods, green life crystals, a blue energy crystal (that he called a flashlight), a ribcage, jawbone and a tusk among a few other things. Wait, a ribcage, jawbone and a tusk? Yes, a ribcage, jawbone and a tusk, adventure game grasshoppers.
Remember #1, Jon Snow? Puzzle answers are hardly obvious and often some of the inventory items can complete the objective, but not knowing which means we’ll have try them all. If none of them work, it’s time chat with all the NPCs again (if they’ll talk back to us this time) and then finally revisit locations to see what we missed or if a cue was triggered allowing us to interact with something that was previously unavailable. Hopefully we haven’t rage quit or had a psychotic break by then, but have already begun to grasp the next lesson.
#3 Logic has left the building
“Circuitous thinking” must be embraced/accepted/tolerated if we have any hope of successfully conquering adventure games with our psyches intact. A simple explanation is that the quickest route from A to B is anything but direct. A solid example is seen during Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (1992). For the uninitiated, Indiana Jones is a swashbuckling archaeologist from beloved films: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. There was a fourth one too but I do no more than acknowledge its existence, much like the Star Wars prequels. Anyway, Jones is best known for witty banter, beating up baddies, being beaten up by baddies, and of course getting the girl. In this game, he’s trying to uncover the secrets of Atlantis before the Nazis do.
Adventure game Indy is armed with the whip too along with a bunch of random stuff. Not really a spoiler here but eventually we’ll have to rescue somebody from a jail cell. The door opens vertically and Indy manages to lift it but the hostage fears being crushed. Our task is to find something that will keep the door open, but not just anything will do. We need to find an specific but unknown something, despite an abundance of nearby objects and materials that logically could do the job. Not to mention the stuff we’ve got in our TARDIS pocket including a ladder and a cup that can hold lava. Heck yeah, lava which is great at melting well, everything, and would surely have some effect on a jail cell door. Alas no, there was another thing to use with a thing, to get a thing to free the hostage. There’s an old saying, “Common sense isn’t common.” Well it’s rare to see stuff making sense in adventure games…especially our heroes.
#4 Morals? We don’t need no stinkin’ morals!
The dictionary definition of the word “hero” is “a person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.” In adventure games, our hero is hardly any of these things. First off from prince to pauper, our guy or gal gets no respect and is often spoken to like they’re the village idiot instead of the most important person in the story. Then again do they really deserve respect?
All the heroic characters we’ve seen on Mostly Walking have done questionable things. In Grim Fandango (1998), our protagonist is a hard-working travel agent for the dead named Manny Calavera. As far as video game characters go, I love Manny, but he’s a piece of work. Manny’s ambitious but also a cheat and a liar. He manipulates friends into doing his bidding and only helps the helpless if it benefits him as well. He’s a lovable little scoundrel but we’d have a hard time getting through the tale if we thought he was ever going to take the high ground. As part of embracing the circuitous thinking theory, our protagonists’ moral fibre should get chucked out the window early on. They’re all ruthless individuals and quite frankly, more sociopathic than heroic. Don’t be surprised if we often find ourselves wondering who’s the real bad guy here?
#5 Sometimes you gotta have friends
Adventure games are single player but that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to play the game. I’ve had the most fun playing with somebody else because let’s be honest two (or more) heads are better than one. Back in this genre’s heyday, game companies provided severely stuck players with a hotline to call in case for puzzle solutions. These days we have the internet but it’s much more fun to kick around theories with friends.
It’s ironic that some Mostly Walking viewers get enraged frustrated when the boys get stuck but to me those are the best moments. For one thing, I don’t feel half as bad about my own befuddlement when I see Bill and the Seans get trouble in the same places. Of course there are other times when they breeze through puzzles that made my head hurt and thusly confirm their abilities as adventure game savants (in my mind anyway). Still the cogitation, frustration and elation are best shared with others. I personally regret consulting a walkthrough document for extra hints when playing Grim Fandango because it would have been far more rewarding experience to discuss it with one of my friends or at least mull over the puzzle for a day or two and solve it organically.
A Final Word
Maybe it’s because of a form of Stockholm syndrome as Bill Graner once suggested, but I get a kick out of adventure games. Maybe it’s because I really wanted a computer in the 90s and King’s Quest VI is the game I ogled in a software store. Maybe it’s because I’m a little bit masochistic and solving crazy puzzles is strangely gratifying. Maybe it’s because the three boys’ irreverent (and often juvenile) humour makes me laugh until tears flow. Regardless of the reason, I actually learned something from Mostly Walking and thank them for that.
The show streams live on http://www.twitch.tv/day9tv, Monday nights from 7:00pm to 9:30pm PST (10:00pm EST, 4:00am CET). For social media updates check out their official Facebook page and follow the three on Twitter:
Correction thanks to Sean Bouchard:
The Dig’s protagonist was Boston Low not Law as I stated previously.